She’d always known his wish was to become a soldier, but considering he’d lost his father and two uncles at the Battle of Shiloh, Seth had given up on the dream. Not only for his mother’s sake—she’d lost her husband and two brothers on the same day—but for his, too. He needed to continue the shipbuilding business his father and uncles had started before the war, make sure his family was financially secure.
Even now, years later, he wondered if she’d truly wanted her sons to go to West Point, as she’d said, or if his mother had pushed him to because she’d known it was what he’d still wanted. It had been, and by then, money hadn’t been an issue. So he’d gone. Not just to make his mother happy. It had made him happy, too. By then he’d carried the weight of responsibility for his family and the shipbuilding crews for several years, and he’d found he liked commanding men. It came naturally to him. What he’d decided he didn’t want was the responsibility of having a wife and children. He loved his family, but the loss of their father had affected them all deeply.
“Yes,” Jasper said. “It’s here, too. There’s no avoiding death.”
Seth didn’t respond. Death was inevitable, but there was no reason to leave broken hearts and shattered homes when it happened. He saw it on the battlefields, but he shouldn’t have to see it in the faces of the wives and children left behind. It was too much.
“Someday, Seth, you’ll understand that living is as much a part of life as dying is.” Jasper crossed the room and left, closing the door softly.
A shiver settled deep in Seth’s spine, making his back stiffen. Living didn’t need to include a wife. Snatching up the report, he forced his mind to concentrate on it, as well as several other tasks that needed to be completed. So it wasn’t until the dinner bell echoed over the compound that he rose from his desk.
From the front steps of the headquarters building, where he was stretching muscles that had stayed idle too long, his gaze went to his cabin. The right thing would be to go get his wife, escort her to dinner. Then again, she had ears, and as he’d told Briggs, she might as well get used to fort living.
He was toiling with his decision when he entered the hall, almost feeling guilty. That instantly changed. She was here. Not sitting at a table set for two, but at a long bench, talking merrily with several men already seated around her.
A growl vibrated at the back of Seth’s throat. That definitely reminded him of Rosemary. As did the way she turned and lifted her brows at the sight of him.
Men moved, gesturing for him to take their seats, and Seth, accustomed to making snap decisions, faltered. He couldn’t ignore her in front of all his men, yet he couldn’t pretend they were happily married.
Or could he? That might prove to be the one thing that would irritate Rosemary—or Millie, or whoever she was. After five years, an amorous husband would be the last thing she’d expect, and perhaps the one thing that would send her on her way.
It was a twist he hadn’t thought would thrill him, but it did, and he almost cracked a grin as he walked across the hall. “Hello,” he murmured, gently placing a hand between her shoulder blades, where he felt the tiniest quiver beneath his palm.
Shock shimmered in her eyes as she answered, “Hello.”
“I trust you had a nice afternoon,” he said, taking a seat and scooting a bit closer to her side than necessary.
“Y-yes, thank you,” she stammered.
The twitching of her lower lip did make him want to smile. Oh, yes, this might be the perfect plan of attack. He should have thought of it earlier. Not doing what his enemies expected had kept him alive for years.
When Briggs opened the food line, Seth escorted her through it, with his hand riding low on the small of her back. He noted how her feet kept stumbling, and her nervousness had triumph rising inside him. They ate with the men at the long table, and Seth encouraged her to answer the slew of questions the soldiers posed. Many of them hadn’t been outside Indian Territory for years, and they were hungry to hear what was happening in other parts of the country.
The attention was more than she’d bargained for—her trembling fingers said that. And the edgy glances she sent his way told him she hadn’t expected him to be so accommodating.
Seth simply smiled, and asked a few nonessential questions of his own. When the meal was over, he took her hand and folded her arm through the crook of his while leading her to the door.
Things were slow at the fort right now. The cattle drives were over for the year and most of the crops harvested. That had bothered him this morning, knowing he wouldn’t have other duties consuming his time, but now he realized it was a good thing. Dedicating a few days to a plan that would ultimately hasten her departure was exactly what he needed.